The Nintendo DS is alive with “rare” and “niche” games. I have personally purchased much more than my fair share of “games for the sake of collecting” – and I won’t lie; I bought this game soley based on the fact that it had a short production run and the prices on it were already being driven up. However, I was intrigued by 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors and decided to crack the seal and give it a go.
At it’s heart, this title is a puzzle solving adventure – but wrapped around a very thick story. On the surface, it’s more interactive fiction than game – but we’ll get to that shortly.
You play a young man, Junpei who awakens with amnesia in a cabin aboard a mysterious ship. The only way out of the room is a metal foreboding door with a big red number 5 on it – and it’s secured by a strange card reader. Suddenly a porthole bursts open and water starts filling the room. Your first puzzle is on … escape the room before it fills with water and you drown.
While the game sounds incredibly urgent in nature, there is no clock running (yet). This first puzzle will get you comfortable with the interface and introduce to you the puzzle elements behind this story.
The story and interaction unfolds in first person through mostly still environments not uncommon for these sorts of games. Using the stylus, you’ll click around the room – looking for items, clues and areas to interact with the environment. Items you collect will assist you on your quest – by either being directly usable – or combinable with other objects to make a new one. The items screen offers you the ability to rotate and look at your items three dimensionally.
As you start working your way through the ship’s cabin you’ll start to unravel your memories about what happened to you and how you were brought to the ship. This is done through an interesting narrative method consisting of stills, animations, videos and scrolling dialogue (which is the standard read-click-read-click-read-click type).
During the tutorial level, you’ll find some basic codes to break, some briefcases to open and be introduced to the main core puzzle element, the Digital Root.
The Digital Root is a method of taking several numbers and adding them together to create a new, single digit number. This code breaking system is used throughout the game.
It goes something like this. You have a target code – say the number 4. You have a series of numbers to use to get to the number 4. You have to add the digits together to make another number – which in TURN can have ITS multiple digits added up to make a final number. So …
5+6+2 = 13 = 1 + 3 = 4
So the Digital Code for 4 is 562. Got it? Don’t worry – they will drill this DEEP into your subconscious during the tutorial and the first couple of scenes of the game. You’ll get it by then. Just know there is a lot of it going on.
The tutorial level will hold your hand quite a bit through the puzzles you’ll need to get out – gently telling you more and more information so you can succeed in your initial quest.
The portions of the game where you do interactions to get out of a room are referred to as ESCAPES.
Once you get out of the ship’s cabin, the actual plot begins as you are united with eight other people who have also mysteriously been brought together on this ship. As you start to get to know each other (through endless dialogue I might add) your “host” makes himself known and tells you that you have 9 hours to get off the ship alive before it sinks and you are all killed. He is playing a game with you, see? I couldn’t help but relate it to the SAW movies … “I want to play a game”. While you’re given 9 hours, this is not real-time and you will not have direct control over how that time is always spent. Don’t get hung up on the “time pressures” – it’s not a time driven game despite the time being in the title.
The portions of the game where you get the story are referred to as NOVEL PARTS.
To continue discussing the plot would probably ruin the game, but suffice to say that there is a lot of character building between the 9 characters and lots of plot to unfold. After two full hours of play, I cannot honestly say the story is anything overly original or amazing – but there is something to be said for any game that keeps me up two hours past my bedtime to play. While rather cliche, I can at least assure you that the writing is good and the obvious translation didn’t suffer coming across the pond.
Instead of talking about the game plot further (and possibly give away spoilers), let’s talk about the the title as a game..
The game is rated M for mature. Just a sampling of the sort of things you’ll run across … the F bomb (pretty much all manners of profanity – for those used to playing Pokemon, this might startle you a bit), someone being blown up from a bomb in the stomach (ever see the movie Fortress?) and even a little girl being held at knife point. So yeah, there is mature content here. The good news is that the game doesn’t go out of the way to earn it’s M rating – it just does – and I appreciate that.
The User Interface is quite pleasant to use and it’s actually intuitive. The best part is that it allows you to use any combination of touch screen and D-pad/buttons. If you dig using buttons, you can – likewise the touch screen centric folks will be right at home. At no time did I get frustrated because I couldn’t accomplish something with the UI I wanted to do – and while that doesn’t sound like a great accolade, we all know that no one notices a UI unless it’s bad (and there are plenty of DS games with bad user interfaces).
My only complaint is the inability to skip or speed up things that you’ve seen or done before – especially tasks with heavy dialogue. I get that they are looking to set a mood with the S-L-O-W writing text sometimes, but some of us DO read above a fourth grade level and we would like to consume the story a little faster.
Visually speaking, it’s clean. The graphics range from standard 2D hand-drawn Japan-style animation to realistic 3D rendered style graphics – and some hybrid stuff. Light, sparse but effective use of animation keep it from looking too static or Myst-like. If you’re expecting tons of video or full moving action – this isn’t it. But for a puzzler of this nature – it’s a perfect combination. The graphic quality is quite high and you can tell some love went into the game. Again, I appreciate this.
From an aural perspective the game is a feast. While sound is often the clicking of dialogue skittering by, the highlight/accent sound effects and music are top notch. I’ve always felt sound was a powerful tool in setting mood and enhancing situationals and this game doesn’t disappoint.
As an old school gamer, I still love boxes and manuals. Some of my favorite games wedged their way into my heart by providing great manuals, pack-ins or other even just fantastic artwork on the media itself. Sadly, there is nothing remarkable about this title in that respect. The manual is even of the obnoxious “white text on black” variety.
I’m not sure there is much more I can relate to you without giving away spoilers, so I’ll end the coverage here.
I’ll be the first to admit that this sort of game is not my regular cup of tea – however, the gamer in me so appreciates the style, pinosh and obvious love that went into it – that I was sucked in proper. I can only imagine how much someone who simply loves this genre of game will appreciate this title. If puzzle adventures are your bag and adult language and situations aren’t an issue for you – I have NO problem recommending this game highly to you.
Finally, if you’re just a gamer that appreciates a well-done game – regardless of genre, I would recommend picking this up. If you’re apprehensive about the title, just remember that even if you don’t love the game – you have a nice collectable sitting on your shelf that will probably go for double or triple the value in a couple years.